Saturday, February 4, 2017

Gardeners' Holidays 2017: Renewal

The first Gardeners' Holiday of 2017 was a little unusual for us. Normally, we celebrate February 2 as the Festival of Seeds, planning out our garden for next spring and starting our first set of seedlings (the parsley, which takes a really long time to germinate).

Well, we have indeed received our seed order from Fedco, and Brian spent an hour this morning baking some dirt to start the seedlings in. (This is part of the most recent version of our seed-starting system, which uses a layer of seed-starting mix on top of a mixture of ordinary garden soil that's been baked to eliminate germs. So far, this is the only method we've ever tried that has produced really healthy seedlings. It works so well that we've even begun starting our pepper plants from seed, rather than buying seedlings at the yearly plant sale.) So we have made a start on our garden for 2017—but what made this year unusual is that we also harvested some crops from 2016.

It started when Brian came home from work on Thursday and I spotted him out in the garden, peering at the leggy remains of last year's Brussels sprout plants. These, as I noted last December, were a major disappointment for us. Even with a head start from the new seed-starting mix, combined with careful culling of their upper leaves to give the stalks more sunshine, the sprouts were still no larger than marbles by the time the snow flew. However, we left them in the bed, figuring there was still a chance they'd eventually get big enough to eat...and Brian decided, after looking them over, that the time had come. As you can see, the sprouts were still quite small, but Brian probably figured that they weren't likely to get much bigger, and since we'd need the garden space for other crops before two long, we might as well go ahead and pick them now.

So he cut down one entire stalk of the four we planted and pulled off the sprouts—now closer to the size of a marbles shooter, rather than a regular marble—to make our favorite Roasted Brussels Sprouts with potatoes. The sprouts were so tiny that he just roasted them whole, rather than halving them as he usually does, and they still came out crisp and nearly black by the time the potatoes were done. But they were tasty, all the same, and we can at least say now that the space we devoted to Brussels sprouts in our 2016 garden didn't go to waste. (But all the same, we're not planting any this year. It's just too much hassle for too little nourishment.)

Now, as it happens, while I was watching Brian out there in the garden, I happened to notice that our last crop of winter lettuce, which got planted a bit late last year, was starting to peep up through the dirt as well. (It's the bright green stuff in the middle of the photo; the darker green plants are various weeds, which we unfortunately can't suppress without also suppressing the lettuce.) So as I was fixing myself a tuna-and-avocado sandwich for lunch yesterday, I thought I might as well trot out to the garden and harvest a few leaves off those tender green lettuces to go with it.

When I got out there, though, I discovered that the plants were even smaller than I'd thought. There were only a few leaves that I could reasonably pick without uprooting the whole plant, and it didn't seem worth it. However, I happened to notice at the same time that there was another holdover from last year's garden still growing: a couple of arugula plants, snuggled into the corner of the right front bed, remained green and healthy even after being buried under a foot of snow last month. So I picked a few leaves off those instead and discovered that this makes a wonderful combination with tuna and avocado.

If you ever happen to have both some arugula and a ripe avocado sitting around the house, I urge you to try it. Just cut out a chunk of the ripe avocado and mash it into the tuna, in lieu of mayonnaise, along with whatever else you like to add to your tuna salad. Then spread it on whatever bread you have handy (I recommend rye or pumpernickel), and layer the arugula leaves on top. If you think it needs a little more substance, you can add a couple more slices of the avocado before topping the sandwich. The peppery bite of the arugula makes a fantastic contrast to the savory, slightly salty tuna, and the chewy leaves set off the silky mouthfeel of the avocado. I don't know if I'll ever want to make a plain old tuna sandwich with lettuce and mayo again.

So it looks like our 2017 garden season is off to an auspicious start. We haven't even officially started any of our crops yet, but we've already had our first harvest. Let's hope the next big project on this year's garden agenda—rebuilding our disintegrating bed frames from scratch—goes half so well.
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